Style & Culture

How I Travel: Author Emily Henry Loves a Midwestern City

We peek into the airport routines and bizarre quirks of the world's most well-traveled people.
Author Emily Henry Loves a Midwestern City
Devyn Glista/St. Blanc Studios

One of author Emily Henry’s gifts is creating an incredible sense of place. In her 2022 best-seller, Book Lovers, two New Yorkers take a life-changing trip to a small town while pondering the thrills of their home city. “A lot of the really small details that make a place feel real and lived in, you just can't know without being there—smell is a really important one, and how the weather actually functions,” says Henry. “I’m definitely taking notes.”

As Book Lovers becomes the biggest beach read of the summer, the Ohio-based author chatted with Condé Nast Traveler about packing lipsticks for her book tour, her favorite Midwestern cities, zoning out on planes, and more.

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What she prioritizes when planning a vacation:

Honestly, mostly food. I'm a really prepared traveler, but once I get somewhere, I do like to just go with the flow. Food is the thing that I will always do frantic Googling [for], trying to find the best reviewed places and all of that. When choosing a destination, that's what I get excited about.

How many books she’s got in her carry-on:

I used to truly have a full backpack of books, and obviously that is untenable. At this point, I will usually have one or two physical books, and then I'll have a Kindle. The two books are the things that I'm like, “Oh, these are the books I've been saving for the summer, that I'm so excited about!” But then you get to the airport and you're like, you know what? I kind of want a thriller. I just love the ease of being able to download whatever you're in the mood for, right before you get on the plane, or on the beach.

How flying brings her new ideas:

The thing that I love so much about flying is that it's an opportunity to just do absolutely nothing. I actually find that to be a really good brainstorming time: not even necessarily working out specific issues that I'm having with a book, but just having new ideas. I really love being on a flight, having the window shade open, and not doing really anything. It probably looks so funny to whoever is sitting near me—that I'm just staring for however many hours—but it's really helpful to me. It's so easy to just not be on Instagram or check email or whatever. It’s the perfect time.

The cities she looks forward to traveling through on book tours:

I feel like I am a stereotypical traveler, in that the cities that I really love are the ones that do get a ton of love, but I will say I have affection for all of the Midwestern cities. I'm from Cincinnati, and there's this really familiar feeling in places like St. Louis. I feel like I just get those cities in some way, where I just understand and feel at home. I also think, a lot of times, those Midwestern cities have this really vibrant arts life because there's just not a ton else going on. Writers, musicians, and artists will all end up in these places that are a little bit more affordable. Another one that comes to mind is Madison, Wisconsin—just a beautiful, beautiful city. So underappreciated and just gorgeous. Grand Rapids is a really cool city; sort of like Portland, Oregon, but with a coastal feel because of the Great Lakes.

How she approaches beauty and fashion on the road:

I have my go-tos that I know pretty much [work] with everything. My favorite lipstick lately has been Charlotte Tilbury's Pillow Talk, because it's so subtle. Even if you don't use lip liner, you can just put it on like a lip balm and it still looks good. Usually I'll take all of the tamer lipstick and makeup that I have, because I know it will work for everything, but then I'm also always going to take a red lip, just in case. I don't super plan that out, but I do plan my outfits out ridiculously, especially if it's for a book tour, and take pictures, and see how they look when I'm sitting down versus standing. Because for a lot of events you're sitting! I'm definitely an over-planner on that front. But with makeup, I feel like I just take the tried and true, and then a couple of more sparkly options, just in case I'm feeling festive.

How she came to fall in love with New York:

At the end of my undergrad career, I did a writing residency in New York, but I really went because I was hoping to make publishing connections. I feel like that's the old-school way of looking at publishing—you need to be in the city. I shocked myself with how in love with the city I felt. I didn't expect that. I've never really thought of myself as a city person, and I had gone to school in this quaint little charming college town on Lake Michigan, so it was a surprise. I was living in Long Island City, Queens, at the time, had studio space where we could work, paint, and write, in Chelsea, and then had an internship in Williamsburg, so I got to see a little bit of a lot of different neighborhoods. I remember visiting a few years after I lived there and running into two separate people I knew, in neighborhoods I've never even been to. I think there's this misconception from people outside of the city that, like, “Oh, it's so huge, and so cold, and you don't have community there,” and I did not have that experience at all.

The hotel amenity she cares a lot about:

When there is a robe, that, to me, is the height of luxury. I think that's my Midwestern middle-class roots showing. A robe or slippers, I really love that. And really good air conditioning. I'm a huge baby about heat.

Where she’s hoping to go next:

I was supposed to get over to Edinburgh this summer, and it didn't end up happening, so I'm really hoping sometime in the not-too-distant future. I've heard such great things. And then almost certainly I will be getting back out to the West Coast, where I have a lot of family. They live all up in Oregon, but I love to fly into San Francisco, so I can go to the redwoods and the beach and wine country, and make my way up to Oregon. That's my favorite trip, which I never get sick of.